The Electoral Reform Bill and Guidelines for participation initially got stuck in the Transitional Legislative Assembly (TLA) over matters that were later realized to arise principally out of pecuniary concerns. There were some heated exchanges over the necessity of the hitch. But in the final analysis, the bill got passed. That’s the beauty of a democratic debate and we are thankful for the non-violence exercise.
Like all things in Liberia, doing it the right way from the start and all the way to the end is always the key to success. Leaving seemingly “little matters” unattended has the potential of rocking the process inevitably or unfairly tilting the balance in one direction. So, it is all about the discovery of unfinished businesses that must be addressed; and taking care of those businesses in a timely fashion should be a priority.
In my view, the NEC’s guidelines of January 17, 2005 relating to the registration of Political Parties and Independent Candidates failed to address two important concerns that I believe, if addressed properly, will help to “ensure that the rights and interest of all Liberians are guaranteed, and that the elections are organized in a manner that is acceptable to all.”
First, there is no specific reference within the Guidelines to prohibit the use of public resources in support of candidates and political parties during campaign activities. Second, the Commission has established no deadline for the resignation of current government officials who may have the desire to contest for elected positions in the upcoming national elections. And God knows - there are dozens of them waiting in the winds to jump into the race and take care of business.
While the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (ACPA) may have partially tried to address the issue of restricting the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), Speaker of the NTLA, as well as all principal Cabinet Ministers within the NTGL from contesting for any elected office during the upcoming elections; the ACPA speaks nothing of other executive political appointees within NTGL including Commissioners of Bureaus and Managing Directors of Public Corporations and Autonomous Agencies and their deputies. The accord is equally silent on Deputy Ministers serving in the NTGL and current members of the TLA who may be desirous of seeking elective positions within their various constituencies.
I think that the same logic that went into restricting “Principal Cabinet Ministers” should have applied to Commissioners, Managing Directors and their deputies. If not, what justifies the thinking that the Minister of Agriculture or Rural Development for that matter, can exercise more undue political and financial influence on the elections process than say the Managing Director of National Port Authority, Liberia Petroleum Refining or the Commissioner of Maritime or the Comptroller General of Liberia? It just doesn’t make sense to me. What’s good for the goose must also be good for the gander.
Since the ACPA failed to address these issues comprehensively, The NEC is now called upon to take practical steps to close the loop before it gets too late. I believe that the NEC can solve this looming problem by taking bold and unequivocal actions to set a specific deadline for these government officials to resign their post before contesting for any elective position in the forthcoming elections. I take the position that the NEC should require the officials in the category mentioned above to resign their position at least six months prior to the day of national elections in order to qualify and participate.
This is not asking too much. The NTGL Chairman can replace them based on the recommendation of their respective nominating parties. By this move, the NEC will be creating some sort of level playing field between those with access to government resources and exposure and those without such added edge.
Clearly, the argument relating to the advantage of incumbency cannot apply to these official of government. Why? Because, they were never elected by the will of any electorate of any legitimacy. They were selected or appointed to positions in various branches of government for the purpose of national convenience in order to implement the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The above two concerns should be addressed quickly in order to create and ensure a level playing field for all – where the less powerful will be heard as well as the most powerful. Further, this process will also minimize the abuse of authority, undue influence and coercion as a form of power, which of course has always been a trademark in Liberia’s system of government and political campaigning.